Around the Nation
1:35 pm
Tue December 24, 2013

In New Hampshire, Christmas Lights Help Welcome New Immigrants

Originally published on Tue December 24, 2013 5:02 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Decking a house in thousands of lights is one way to spread holiday spirit. It can also serve as an education in American culture. Ibby Caputo, of member station WGBH, took a tour of Christmas lights in Manchester, New Hampshire. She went with a group of global refugees.

IBBY CAPUTO, BYLINE: On a chilly winter evening, Amadou Hamady ushers people from all over the world onto a school bus.

(SOUNDBITE OF BUS)

AMADOU HAMADY: Let's go. Let's go. Let's go.

CAPUTO: Somali women dressed in brightly-colored burqas sit in front of Nepali Bhutanese men with tilakas painted on their foreheads. Not far behind are two Iraqi girls in Western clothing. Across the aisle, a Sudanese mother in a headscarf. Hamady works for the International Institute of New England, which helps refugees get a foothold in the U.S. Tonight, Hamady introduces these refugees to the holiday spirit, American style.

HAMADY: The holiday spirit is in full swing for some people. For many of the newcomers we have here, this serves as a reminder that they are a stranger in a new home.

CAPUTO: Hamady says this field trip helps refugees feel more welcome, not by celebrating Christmas - many people on the bus are not Christian - but they are experiencing the culture of their new home. He says it's a way to encourage optimism and limit isolation.

HAMADY: Because, again, someone who's coming from a war-torn country who have endured so much, they need strong self-esteem to survive or to rebuild their life in a new country that has completely a different culture.

CAPUTO: On this light tour, that completely different culture is obvious.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Woo.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Oh.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: Oh, that's awesome.

HAMADY: That's awesome.

CAPUTO: The bus eases by a house dotted in colored lights. The trees and shrubs glow and towering inflatable Christmas characters crowd the yard. 22-year-old Daniyah Kazadi is from Burundi. He's Christian but says he's never celebrated Christmas like this before.

DANIYAH KAZADI: We don't have the lights concept in Africa. It's just - people go to church and come back home, share food, that's all. Yeah.

CAPUTO: Daniyah says he wants to bring his parents and his two younger brothers back to see the elaborate lights. In Burundi, Daniyah's family sometimes would spend a whole week without electricity. When they first arrived in New York City, Daniyah says they were shocked by the lights. That was five months ago.

KAZADI: As time goes by, you get used to it and it becomes a part of your life, so you accept it.

CAPUTO: While the Christmas lights are the main attraction, it's the heated, noisy bus that Daniyah likes the best. It reminds him of rides he took in Burundi.

KAZADI: In the bus, it was warm. So we would open windows, air coming in, heat working, people talking, good smelling. Chicken would be, you know, cockling, cock-a-doodle-doo. So it was really, really good.

CAPUTO: It's very different from here, Daniyah knows, but sometimes you can feel home in the most unexpected places. For NPR News, I'm Ibby Caputo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Related Program